Eating disorders impact lives, not just one week

As we know, this week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. For some people, it is just a time where they see a few posts shared on Facebook concerning the topic, like it if it seems interesting and continue on with their lives. For others this week is all too real and puts a perspective on their own experiences with eating disorders. I am one of those people.

It all started when I was a freshman in high school, and for the first time in my life, I was able to lose weight and get to a healthy level. Before that I was always overweight, and my mother would constantly make remarks of disapproval, saying how I should control my eating habits and how being overweight was bad for my health.

It was no surprise when my weight loss finally led her to stop making those comments and even allowed some compliments towards me. I realized that I became very good at controlling what I ate. I would perfectly portion all my meals: fruits, grains and vegetables. I was proud of myself for having this ability to resist temptation.

Of course in hindsight, I was not resisting temptation at all. I became obsessed with food. I would constantly bake goods, give them to everyone else and never take some for myself. I began marathoning shows on the food network, imagining myself eating the delicious recipes concocted, while at the same time, dreading the calories that were in every meal.

My sophomore year of high school, I started getting very dizzy. I would feel nauseous even when I hadn’t eaten anything that day. In a routine physical, my pediatrician looked at my weight with disapproval. “You’re too thin. You need to eat more. You’re dizzy and nauseous because your blood sugar is too low.”

My friends at school were also continuously telling me I should eat more. They would constantly look at the food I packed and say, “Is that all you’re eating today?”

People would tell me that it was good that I was eating so much and that I looked better already. However things turned for the worse when my obsession led me to overeat at every meal. In one year, I went from being 20 pounds underweight to being 20 pounds overweight. The cycle didn’t end there either. Even in beginning of college, my weight fluctuated constantly.

With the rapid weight gain, I developed acid reflux, a protein deficiency and a myriad of other health problems. It did not help that at some points, I felt so full that I would sometimes throw up.

Things started to change when I began educating myself on abnormal eating patterns. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder were only a few of the abnormal eating patterns I learned of. I became more attuned to how my peers viewed food and weight.

I looked more closely at different media outlets and how they viewed weight, diet and exercise. These were shows like “The Biggest Loser” or People Magazine’s “New Year, New You” tag, where they show pictures of before and after extreme weight loss over the year.

These never talked much about health in general. They would talk more about fitness and looking good. For them it was all about the physical shape of the human. They failed to talk about the ridiculous and dangerous measures some people take to get to their goal weight in a short period of time.

This may sound extremely cliché, but it is true. In my experience, it is not about the end result to get to a better state of health; it is about the journey. My constant fasting and obsession with portions as well as my out-of-control eating were not made better by changing the number on the scale.

They were made better by will power and wiring my own brain to look at food differently. Instead of counting calories, I count protein instead. I focus on getting food groups and do not portion out each meal like I used to. I even began exercising an appropriate amount.

While I always have that predisposition to obsess over what I eat, how much I eat or even thinking about food, I make sure to keep it under control. Shows like the “The Biggest Loser” never talk about how much more energetic you feel after a good workout. As a matter of fact, many of the contestants are overworked, become exhausted and even end up with permanent joint damage.

My realization did not come from my weight number. It came from how I felt physically. Some days I am hungrier, but I let myself eat more. Some days I don’t eat much, but I make sure I get the appropriate amount of nutrition that my body needs.

As a whole, we need to focus on one of the most important things in life that we take for granted so often, but when lost we yearn it more than anything else. This is health. Each individual has their own needs for food quantity and portion of nutrients. What helped me most was to stop listening to people saying, “You’re too thin. You need to eat more,” or “You’re too fat. Cut down your portions.”

In no way am I saying that these statements can never hold true, but I am saying that it is so much more than that. If we want to fix our eating issues, we should approach it in a different way. We should not only look at them as merely physical, but also psychological. It takes will power to change habits that merely doing a fasting session or eating copious amounts at one time will not do.

My advice is to focus on a journey to better health. Listen to professionals that give you the appropriate diet you should follow. Don’t let stories of “inspiration” about how one woman lost weight by only eating grapefruit affect what you do. Do what makes you feel physically better, energetic and more alert for school, and don’t worry so much about the number on the scale.

This article was written by a junior who wished to remain unnamed.